Washington, D.C. Mayor Claims Constitutional Right to Statehood

September 23, 2019 by Tom Ramstack
Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser attends BET Honors 2015 at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser claimed at a congressional hearing last week that provisions of the U.S. Constitution give residents of her city a right to statehood.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform held the hearing to discuss pending legislation that would make all but two-square miles of Washington the nation’s 51st state.

A thin strip of land between the White House, the U.S. Capitol building and the Supreme Court would remain federal property. The rest of the District of Columbia would be called the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth.

The “Douglass” in Douglass Commonwealth refers to Frederick Douglass, the former slave who became a renowned author, statesman and social reformer. He spent part of his life in Washington.

“This is America and Americans are entitled to equal protection under the law and that’s why you should support statehood,” Bowser said at the hearing. The U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment includes an “equal protection” clause.

The statehood bill was introduced by Delegate Eleanor Holmes-Norton, Washington’s non-voting Democratic representative to Congress.

She and her supporters have said that Washington’s more than 702,000 residents make up a population greater than the states of Wyoming and Vermont. Their $15.5 billion annual budget is bigger than 14 states.

Republicans on the committee say making Washington, D.C. a state would violate the intent of Congress when it carved the federal district out of parts of Virginia and Maryland. Congress created the “District Clause” in Article I of the U.S. Constitution to ensure the federal government would not be subjected to the local politics and authority of any one state.

The Republican opponents also say a large part of Washington, D.C.’s annual budget comes from federal subsidies rather than local taxpayers. With statehood, they could no longer be guaranteed the same subsidies.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said D.C. statehood would give Democrats too much of an advantage by the near certainty two Democratic senators would get elected. D.C. voters show a consistent preference for Democrats.

Other opposition was demonstrated in a Gallup poll announced in July that showed 64 percent of Americans oppose D.C. statehood. Only 29 percent support it.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, pinned some of his opposition to statehood on what appears to be ethical failings among District of Columbia Council members.

One of them is Jack Evans, who is accused of using his job on the D.C. Council to seek additional employment with a law firm. Evans also is being investigated by a federal grand jury for allegedly using his political power to help a media company that was secretly paying him. 

“We cannot ignore the elephant in the room,” Jordan said. “The District government currently faces serious allegations of misconduct. We’d hoped to have an honest conversation about some of these issues this morning, which is why we asked Chairman [Elijah] Cummings to invite D.C. Councilmember and former Metro Chairman Jack Evans to testify today. However, the chairman denied that request.”

Norton, the District’s delegate to Congress, said allegations against Evans were an unrelated issue.

“The allegations against Mr. Evans have nothing to do with D.C. statehood and the fundamental suffrage of 700,000 American citizens,” she said. “The voting rights of Americans citizens and their representatives in Congress have never been and never will be contingent on state and local officials never engaging in misdeeds.”

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